Despite its somewhat unique premise, Bull follows the procedural blueprint to the letter.
The series – starring NCIS’ Michael Weatherly as the titular Dr Jason Bull – is inspired by the early career of Dr Phil McGraw (the pyschologist who impressed Oprah Winfrey so much that he got his own talk show). Before becoming a TV host, McGraw co-founded a trial consulting firm which, to put it simply, applies human behavioural science in a courtroom setting.
In the series, we see Bull using his three doctorates in the field of psychology and his uncanny understanding of people to head the Trial Analysis Corporation, or TAC for short. It’s a consulting company for hire that aims to always stay one step ahead of a jury – and opposing lawyers as well – and ultimately “tip the scales of justice in a client’s favour”.
As with other law-related shows, Bull’s team is made up of experts in different fields who work together to solve the case of the week. Of course, they do this under the adept leadership of Bull, whose own expertise is to profile the hell out of anyone in a matter of seconds.
There is Benny Colon (Freddy Rodriguez), the lawyer in TAC’s mock trials who helps the team strategise its defence.
Marissa Morgan (Geneva Carr), a former employee of the Department of Homeland Security, is TAC’s neurolinguistics specialist. She walks around with an iPad, explains a lot and gathers all the information Bull and Benny need.
To chase the truth in the field, Bull looks to former NYPD detective Danny James (Jaime Lee Kirchner). Danny is such an excellent detective that she sees clues that her former colleagues on the force have missed.
Chunk Palmer (Chris Jackson) is the stylist who can whip up just the right look for a client who is appearing in front of a jury, to further sway the verdict because – according to Bull – a change of clothing can change how a person is perceived.
Rounding out the team is the millennial hacker Cable McCrory (Annabelle Attanasio), who gets all the information the team needs from the Internet, sometimes legally – because everyone puts all their information online anyway – and sometimes illegally.
Well, other than Benny, not a single member of Bull’s team is even remotely likeable. At the very worst, they are just colourless figures taking up space; the audience can’t relate to any of them and all those flowery descriptions of their jobs don’t really impress anyone. Cable is, I am sorry to say, a walking cliche.
Even Bull falls into the same trap! Although Weatherly paints over Bull’s know-it-all attitude with a charming smile or a mischievous twinkle, his character does not have a hook that would keep the audience interested, for sure. It’s strange because Bull is similar to Simon Baker’s role in The Mentalist (another procedural) but the latter had an endearing quality from the get go and a character arc that was present in all its seven seasons that got us invested not only in the show but also in the character. Here, nothing.
Luckily, Bull does grow on you especially after the series’ sixth episode when TAC accepts an arrogant doctor with an awful bedside manner as a client. His presence somehow softens Bull’s persona. Nonetheless, the fact that we have to wait six episodes for a change like this to happen ... well, that’s just unfortunate.
By this time, the series has supplied some background on the lead character too, giving him a hint of depth. A small hint, really, and not enough for us to be engaged with the show. Having said that, however, if the show does shift its focus to any other character’s personal drama, it would be a mistake because we just don’t care about them.
Procedurals remain popular for a reason. The four-act structure allows the audience to turn on the TV at any point of an episode and just watch whatever is going on. If that’s what rocks your boat, then Bull is not that bad. After a tiring day at work, who wants to exercise those grey cells further, eh?
Bull does have a couple of unique qualities. For one, we can continue watching it for no other reason than to glean some tidbits about human nature. After all, none of us likes to be judged. In a courtroom, 12 people are judging the defendant. In that sense, it is interesting to see just how Bull angles the jury towards different clients to suit his needs.
For example, a defendant with a god complex needs jury members who are just as egotistical. So, you know, they will be on his side. One of the ways Bull achieves this is by asking a specific question to the juror. The questions are part of the fun on the show.
Now, if I could only remember what those insights and burning questions are, exactly. Darn it! Why are you so forgettable, Bull?
Bull airs every Wednesday at 9pm on RTL CBS Entertainment HD (HyppTV Ch 616).